Although there were no new major revelations in the documents, which were initially reported Friday by The New York Times, The Guardian newspaper of London, German magazine Der Spiegel and French newspaper Le Monde, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin said this morning that the material reveals "the war was even uglier than we thought."
These are the same documents - part of the largest publication of secret material in history - that Pentagon officials have been urging the website WikiLeaks and the media not to publish.
"These are reports filed by American soldiers out in the field, and they recount in really graphic detail the day after day after day of violence that was killing mostly Iraqi civilians," Martin said.
The Iraqi prime minister said Saturday that the timing of WikiLeaks' release aims to sabotage his re-election bid.
After the documents were released, Martin said on "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" that "the surprise is that there are no surprises" - although the civilian death toll revealed is higher than the officially-released numbers.
At a press conference in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, "We hope to correct some of that attack on the truth that occurred before the war, during the war and which has continued on since."
Casualty figures in the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been hotly disputed because of the high political stakes in a conflict opposed by many countries and a large portion of the American public. Critics on each side of the divide accuse the other of manipulating the death toll to sway opinion.
Martin said, for example, that while it was known that Iraqi civilians were dying in horrific numbers, there is now a specific number - 66,000, most of them at the hands of other Iraqis.
According to Wikileaks, the number of innocent Iraqis who approached American checkpoints and for one reason or another failed to heed a warning to stop and were shot and killed was close to 700.
The documents indicate that 1,300 Iraqi prisoners were subjected to abuse and torture by other Iraqis in secret prisons. (The deputy minister for the Iraqi justice ministry, Busho Ibrahim, said he hadn't read the WikiLeaks documents but denied any abuse had taken place in Iraqi-run prisons.)
The nearly 400,000 documents are comprised of reports sent in by American units in the field between 2004 and 2009.
WikiLeaks has tabulated that, during the course of the war, 31 innocent Iraqi civilians, were killed every day.
"Our coverage of the war, naturally, focused on the thousands of American troops who were being killed and wounded," said Martin." But, the fact is, and these documents demonstrate it, the people who suffered the most were Iraqi civilians.
"War in the 21st century was supposed to be a war with high-precision weapons and was supposed to spare civilians," Martin said. "That turned out to be a false promise."
"There can be no closure or moving on from this or any war until every last victim is properly recognized and the full details and circumstances of their death acknowledged," said John Sloboda of Iraq Body Count. "These logs are potentially the largest single contribution to achieving that goal that has ever been published."
Among the details fleshed out by the documents:
• U.S. authorities failed to investigate hundreds of reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers whose conduct appears to be systematic and normally unpunished.
• Americans often turned a blind eye to Iraqis being tortured and abused by other Iraqis in secret prisons.
•(to a further extent than previously known) in support of Shiite combatants, offering weapons, training and sanctuary.
Martin says these documents in particular show that the Obama administration's efforts to reach out to Iran did not produce any results. "This was supposed to be a brand new start from the Bush administration policy of confrontation with Iran," said Martin. "But, as these documents show, they run through 2009, and on the last day of 2009 there was an Iranian-backed rocket attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad."
A report also states that the three American hikers who were detained by Iranian security forces after allegedly crossing the border into Iran were on the Iraqi side of the border. "I'm sure the Iranians would refute that," said Martin.
• A U.S. helicopter gunship involved in a notorious Baghdad incident had previously killed Iraqi insurgents after they tried to surrender.
• According to one tabulation, there have been 100,000 civilian causalities - greater than the numbers previously made public, many of them killed by American troops but most of them were killed by other Iraqis.
The Pentagon has called on WikiLeaks to return all the secret material it has obtained, but the organization has refused. Its officials say there is value in releasing the raw information. But the Pentagon calls the wholesale release of the secret documents "irresponsible."
According to Der Spiegel, the documents included in the WikiLeaks database aren't of the highest level of classification - at most, they are "secret," but not "top secret." Many of the most sensational events in the Iraq war don't make an appearance, including the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib.
WikiLeaks has never revealed where it obtained the information, although an American Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, has been arrested and accused of being a source of classified material.
In a statement e-mailed to reporters Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell called the documents "snapshots of events" that "do not tell the whole story."
Morell said U.S. "enemies will mine this information looking for insights into how we operate, cultivate sources and react in combat situations..." and that the publication of the material "could very well get our troops and those they are fighting with killed."
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander in Afghanistan, called the release "sad" Friday evening at a summit sponsored by the news site the Daily Beast.
"The decision to leak classified information is something that is illegal, and individuals are making judgments about threats and information they are not qualified to make," McChrystal said. "There is a level of responsibility toward our people that needs to be balanced with a right or need to know."
WikiLeaks published more than 70,000 similar documents from the Afghanistan War in March, and Pentagon officials issued similar dire warnings. They acknowledge they cannot point to any incident in which people died or operations were compromised by that release, but they say such consequences could still happen.
In preparation for the latest release, a team of more than a hundred analysts from across the U.S. military, led by the Defense Intelligence Agency, has been combing through the Iraq documents.
Called the Information Review Task Force, its analysts have pored over the documents they predicted would be released, and used word searches to try to pull out names and other issues that would be particularly sensitive, officials have said.
The 391,831 documents date from the start of 2004 to Jan. 1, 2010, providing a ground-level view of the war written mostly by low-ranking officers in the field. The dry reports, full of military jargon and acronyms, were meant to catalog "significant actions" over six years of heavy U.S. and allied military presence in Iraq.
The following are two examples of redacted documents published by the New York Times:
Summary: The archive disclosed by WikiLeaks documents hundreds of cases in which Iraqi police officers or soldiers were involved in prisoner abuse. In this case, American soldiers found 173 Iraqis detained by the police, many bearing bruises, sores and burns from cigarettes.
DETAINEE ABUSE RPTD BY 2 BCT IN BAGHDAD (ZONE 10): 0 CF INJ/DAMAGE
AT 1600C, 2BCT REPORTS, 173 MOI DETAINES BEING HELD AT AN MOI INTERMNMENT FACILITY NEXT OT THE KARADA DAC HALL. MANY OF THEM BEAR MARKS OF ABUSE TO INCLUDE CIGARETTE BURNS, BRUISING CONSISTENT WITH BEATINGS AND OPEN SORES. MANY OF THE DETAINEES ARE COUGHING AND ARE BEING DESCRIBED AS WALKING WOUNDED. APPROX 95 X DETAINEES WERE BEING HELD IN 1 X ROOM AND WERE SITTING CROSS-LEGGED WITH BLIND FOLDS, ALL FACING THE SAME DIRECTION. ACCORDING TO ONE OF THE DETAINEES QUESTIONED ON SITE, 12 X DETAINEES HAVE DIED OF DISEASE IN RECENT WEEKS.
MARNE 66 RESPONDED AND IS ON SITE. D/4-64 AR IS RESPONDING TO ASSIST WITH SECURITY AND TO FACILITATE THE RELEASE AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES FROM THE FACILITY. A STAFF JUDGE ADVOCATE AND IRAQI JUDGE ARE ALSO RESPONDING. 4-64 AR IS BRINGING MEDICAL ASSETS, HA MEALS AND WATER. THE SJA AND IRAQI JUDGE WILL REVIEW DETAINEE FILES TO DECIPHER WHICH DETAINEES WILL REMAIN IN CUSTODY. THE 4-64 AR SURGEON WILL BE ASSESSING THE MEDICAL REQUIREMENTS OF THE DETAINEES AND WILL CASEVAC ACCORDINGLY. 0 CF INJ/DAMAGE
Summary: If the war was dangerous for Americans, it was far worse for the Iraqis who worked for them. One Iraqi interpreter was killed by an American sniper from his own unit, who mistook him for a militant when the Iraqi became separated from his platoon.
BLUE ON WHITE BY 1ST RECON S OF NASSER WA AL SALEM: 1 CIV KILLED, 0 CF INJ/DAMA
AT 200100C FEB 06, A 1ST RECON SNIPER TEAM WHILE CONDUCTING CLANDESTINE SNIPER OPERATIONS IVO HAJI RD IN THE ZAIDON ENGAGED (1) MAM WITH (4) 5.56MM ROUNDS IVO (38S MB 09971 79804) 4KM S OF NASSER WA AL SALEM. THE MAM WAS PID W/ AK-47 CREEPING UP BEHIND THEIR SNIPER POSITION AND WAS SHOT IN THE CHEST W/ (2) 5.56MM ROUNDS AT 15M. QRF WAS LAUNCHED TO EXTRACT THE SNIPER TEAM. THE MAM WAS SEARCHED BY TEAM AND RECOVERED (1) AK-47, (2) MAGAZINES OF 7.62MM, DOUBLE TAPED, (1) LARGE KNIFE, (1) ID CARD WITH "----- -----" WRITTEN ON CARD. MAM WAS ALSO NOTED TO BE WEARING A TRACKSUIT AND SEVERAL WARMING LAYERS TO INCLUDE (2) PAIRS OF SOCKS. THE BODY WAS LEFT BEHIND AT (38S MB 09971 79804) UPON EXTRACT OF THE SST. PIONEER OBSERVING ON SITE W/ NSTR.
UPDATE: UPON FURTHER INVESTIGATION THE KIA TURNED OUT TO BE THE PLATOON'S INTERPRETER THAT WAS SEPARATED FROM UNIT. THE BODY WAS RECOVERED AND IS CURRENTLY LOCATED AT FALLUJAH SURGICAL. THIS ACTION IS NOW CONSIDERED A BLUE ON GREEN. IT RESULTED IN (1) IZ KIA (IRAQI INTERPRETER EMPLOYED BY TITAN.